• Aimee Stephens. Photo by Andrew Potter.

Settlement Reached in Historic Aimee Stephens Case

By |2020-12-02T13:45:54-05:00December 2nd, 2020|Michigan, News|

Aimee Stephens, who died in May at 59 from kidney disease, did not live to see the Supreme Court rule in her favor and decide that she and other LGBTQ people were protected from discrimination under federal employment law. But now U.S. District Judge Sean Cox has signed off on a $130,000 settlement, which includes $63,724 in back pay with interest and $66,276 in damages. The R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Home in Garden City, where Stephens worked for six years, also has to pay $120,000 in legal fees to the ACLU.

Aimee Stephens sued the funeral home she worked for after being fired for being transgender and wanting to present as her authentic female self on the job. The case made it all the way to U. S. Supreme court who handed down a landmark ruling in favor of LGBTQ rights in June. The case was then handed back to the U.S. District Court to award damages.

“She always knew that she may not live to hear the decision from the Supreme Court,” Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Project, told Between The Lines for an earlier story on the case. “The day before the Supreme Court hearing, she had back-to-back interviews all day long. She kept going until she literally could not stand up anymore.”

The fact that Stephens did not live to see her victory – or her money – is ‘bittersweet’ Kaplan said in a statement on the settlement.

“We are pleased that all sides were able to come to an agreement regarding damages and attorney fees,” he said. “The settlement of this case is bittersweet in that Aimee passed away before matters could be resolved.”

But, in a way, Stephens will live on as her case positively impacts LGBTQs across the country for years to come.

“This settlement marks a closing chapter in Aimee Stephens’ remarkable fight for justice,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project. “We are sad that Aimee is not here to experience this moment with her wife Donna and grateful for all that Aimee, Donna, and the many trans fighters for justice and their families have done to bring us to this place. As Aimee always said, this fight is about more than just her and it will stretch far beyond this case.”

In Stephens’ memory, Strangio said he is hoping the new presidential administration will work to further her cause.

“The Biden administration must make it clear that across all areas of federal law sex discrimination protections apply to LGBTQ people and Congress must pass the Equality Act to close critical gaps in our civil rights laws that leave so many LGBTQ people, women and many people of color vulnerable to discrimination,” Strangio continued. “We will honor Aimee’s legacy by continuing her fight for a country where all trans and non-binary people belong and feel safe.”

Under terms of the settlement, the Harris Funeral Home is now required to pay its female employees the same clothing allowance given to men and this will be backdated to September 2012. The funeral home is also required to provide sex discrimination training and to come up with written policies in relation to sex discrimination as well as file reports regularly to the EEOC for the next three years.

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.